Beyond the Beach in Fiji
Fiji is so synonymous with an aquatic lifestyle that its name graces the label of bottled water. Made up of more than 300 islands, the South Pacific republic is a snorkeling and scuba diving sanctuary thanks to its surplus of kaleidoscopic reefs. But, there are still plenty of memorable onshore activities for those feeling waterlogged.
Here are five ways to go beyond the beach in Fiji:
Put your head in the clouds: Take adventure way above sea level on Tomanivi, “the roof of Fiji,” located on the main island of Viti Levu. Often surrounded by cloud cover that gives hikers a reprieve from the sun’s strong rays, the more than 4,000-feet-high peak offers a rainforest landscape with citrus trees, purple wildflowers, and a playlist of parrot calls.
But, this is no casual nature walk. Half of the three-hour ascent slopes so steeply that summit-seekers occasionally have to pull themselves up using tree trunks and moss-covered rocks. Few tourists venture into Viti Levu’s interior, so it’s likely that you’ll share the route with locals from base village, Navai, who scramble up the narrow path to catch wild pigs.
The very bold can attempt to trek Fiji’s highest mountain alone, but tour operator Talanoa Treks works with guides who’ve spent their life on Tomanivi, and who can help visitors avoid repeatedly falling in the mud on the way down.
Discover the country’s multicolored gems: With colors ranging from baby blues to coppery browns, J. Hunter Pearls, located in Savusavu, Vanua Levu, are the rebels of the pearl world, where cream- and black-hued quarries are the norm. A bonus: The prismatic bounty of Fijian oysters is completely natural.
Started by marine biologist and Fijian-American hybrid Justin Hunter, the company uses both wild oysters from Savusavu Bay and ones homegrown at their private hatchery. Visitors can take a tour of each site to discover just how much work (algae strains, artificial reefs, tissue graphs) and time (five years) it takes to create a single pearl.
Chat over drinks: The most authentic way to soak up Fijian culture is through kava, a brew resembling milky tea that’s shared with guests during traditional village welcome ceremonies.
Steeped in ritual, the drink is made by mixing crushed roots of the kava plant with water in a large wooden tanoa bowl. The result isn’t exactly a thirst quencher—kava tastes a bit like muddy water and numbs the tongue—but it makes for a genuinely warm reception.
Tourists aren’t allowed to drop by villages unannounced since chiefs have to give prior approval to visitors, but many hotels and tour companies coordinate excursions. The Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Savusavu offers weekly trips for guests of all ages to Nukubalavu, the largest village in the area with 500 residents. The kava ritual is followed by traditional dance performances, coconut sampling, and craft demonstrations.
Talanoa Treks stops by the remote village of Nabutautau, cradled in Viti Levu’s mountainous center. The tiny community is notorious in Fiji history—in 1867, a Methodist missionary named Thomas Baker was killed here, and then eaten. (The village reconciled with Baker’s descendants in 2003.)
Contrary to Nabutautau’s fascinatingly gruesome history, its modern-day residents are exceptional hosts, offering visitors homecooked meals made from local watermelons, taro, peas, pineapple, and cassava. Kava ceremonies take place in Nabutautau’s new thatch-roofed community hall, built by hand, with village pets peeking in the doorways to watch.
Walk for a cure: A 20-minute boat ride from Taveuni, Fiji’s garden island, lies the 240-acre hideaway of Matangi, a former coconut plantation that’s now a luxury resort complete with tree houses.
The hotel’s most valuable amenity, however, is Horseshoe Bay, a neon turquoise inlet boasting an untouched coral reef that’s listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.
Resort staff offer walks highlighting the healing properties of local flora. Cropping up along the path are noni trees for treating ulcers, tarawaikaka plants to fight infection, and uthi trees that soothe sore throats and clear sinuses.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
There’s fauna along the hike, too. In addition to coming across a few stray cows and goats noshing, trekkers are likely to encounter native birds like orange doves, which feast on the abundant soursop, a green thorny fruit with a pulpy, creamy center.
But the piece de resistance of the walk is the birds-eye view of the electric blue bay from the top of the island’s ridge, which seems to have restorative properties all its own.
Try garden-to-table: Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort doesn’t take its sustainable association lightly. Much of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs used at the restaurant is sourced on resort grounds.
Stroll around the property’s organic garden and greenhouse, brimming with basil, coriander, eggplant, rosemary, ginger, and more. Overhead, vines of passionfruit provide shade from the sun, along with outstretched mango trees. Besides plants of the edible variety, there’s also a nursery nurturing native flowers and trees that will eventually be introduced into the wild landscape.
The waters surrounding the resort are protected as a marine reserve, so you can’t collect fresh catch from the reef. But, if you pick out local lobsters or crabs from the nearby Savusavu market, executive chef Raymond Lee will cook them up for you—along with whatever you might be craving from the garden.
Hannah Sheinberg is the departments editor at National Geographic Traveler. Follow Hannah on Twitter @h_sheinberg.